Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chinese Chaplins

Sunday night the Indian batting order folded up an hour and a half ahead of schedule, so I found myself at a loose end. Didn’t feel like working or reading, and I’d watched every DVD lying around. On impulse I dug into the old stocks and came across a few pirated ones I’d bought across the border in Shenzhen. Flipping through them, I realized that I’d been guilty of passing over some rare treasure.

The blurbs on the back.

Are genius.

Here’s the best one.

A Jewish barber was wounded and lost the memory,He was sent into hospital. Twenty years later the Dictator of Hynkel assumed the reins of government.,Barber’s friend found he was like Dictator of Hynkel.Soon,barber and friend were arrested by assaulters,They changed military dress and went away. Then,Hynkel was nearby hunting,He was considered barber and beat by assaulters,But real barber was considered a dictator, This comedic film was developed…..

Take a deep breath. read it again -- you may have missed something. I did. On second (or third, whatever -- I was too busy reading to count) reading, this reminded me of something. Two years ago, a graduate student I work with had been looking for blurbs of local plays to use as stimulus material in a study she intended to run. She’d sent me some of the wilder ones. Here, for Your Edification, Noble Reader, are a few choice selections.

The Village of Widows
At a coastal fishing village of Fujian Province a weird custom was enforced: wives were only allowed to spend the evening at their husbands’ homes for three nights per year; no intercourse during the first three years; those who could not bear a child in the next three years would be despised. Anyone breaking these rules would have to die at sea. (From relentless unprotected intercourse with sea-urchins, perhaps. Ed.)

Two Great Sheep
An old farmer and his wife have been unwittingly entrusted with rare foreign sheep. But trouble ensues when it is obvious that the couple – and the rest of the village – have no idea how to raise these giant breeds properly. Thus begins the bureaucratic game of “passing the buck”, which ends in a hilarious coda that completely eviscerates the whole notion of public property. (Wonder who plays the sheep and how they list it on their vita. Ed.)

United We Stand, And Swim
Teen ‘Fish’ was dumped by his girlfriend for his poor and shameful swimming skill. To recover his confidence in sports and dignity as a man, he enrolls in a swimming class and vows a wow. In the first lesson ‘Fish’ meets a class likes a living hell and the pot-bellied coach is a money-minded guy. His determination to swim like a fish vapors. Yet the next moment something stunning appears… When his eyes hook up a classmate as sweet as a mermaid… (No comment. Ed.)

As I was typing these out, it occurred to me that surely I could do as good a job myself. After all, the best deserve the treatment.

So here’s a shot at one of my favorites films, blurbed as it should surely be, using the best-practice thematic devices from the above exemplars.

A Bowling Story
Jeff (Dude) was relaxing in his bathroom when intruders push his face into his toilet with Chinaman Wu perform micturation on his living rug. Soon, he tells his giant friend Walter who says he should draw a line in the sand because aggression from the pot-bellied man who was also Lebowski. In front of Big Lebowski Dude is despised. He is poor and shameful. Then, It appeared to Dude and Walter that Lebowski is a money-minded guy who blackmailing himself by using unwitting Nazilists. Lebowski shows Dude was considered his wife’s toe with green nail polish. Meanwhile Walter and Dude go bowling with Donny (a walrus) against jesus (a foreign sheep lover) and Dude’s car got stolen which he gets back without CCR tapes and a tramp excremented inside the back seat leaving vapors. Walter found Larry’s test card and vows a wow and breaked up his neighbor’s new car. Dude's determination to find the assaulter is passed. Many instances of the word “fuck” are ensued despite only one intercourse with Big Lebowski’s daughter who wants to bear a child. Yet the next evening something stunning occurs while dying at sea… A hilarious coda involving a completely eviscerated can of Folgers…

Feel free to send in your creations. It's all in the public domain, like, man. It's come to light.

And in case you’re wondering, I spent the evening sitting on the balcony listening to Sonny Rollins and the MJQ, sipping some tasty.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hair Dresser

I’m at the local barbershop (or, as they call it, “Hair Salon”) for a haircut. Just a regular normal peaceful cut. I do not want my hair colored. I don’t want it frizzified. Or straightened. I do not want to look like something out of Bananarama or the Thompson Twins. Short back and sides, easy on the top – that’s what I always say. I’m eternally wary of what we labeled the tennis-ball cut – from the time in high school when the guy who sat next to me showed up one day with his hair reduced to the same length as the fuzz that covered his pre-shaving cheeks. “Kya karoon, yaar, main kuchh aur soch raha tha,” he lamented, “aur woh saala kaat-ta hi gaya.” I make it a point to not surrender myself to such risky reveries. Still, settling into a comfortable chair, eyes enforcedly closed for long stretches, muscles relaxed from the free shampoo treatment, it’s hard to stop the mind wandering.

My earliest memory of a specific haircut is from Sydney, long ago. I remember the barbershop clearly although we only went there once. It had blue modern art décor on the outside, which made me distrust it. The guy had been running some strange clippers along the side of my neck and that had sent shivers right through me. “Hey Stevey, mite, we got a giggla heeah!” the guy had said, and I’d had to suffer the ignominy of having a second guy hold me in my chair. My father hadn’t looked too pleased – “If you wriggle so much you’ll get yourself badly hurt.”

Haircuts were so much more fun in India. There was the formidable metallic throne that one ascended, clearly manufactured with but a single purpose in mind. The knowledge of having graduated to the world of men the day you were no longer made to sit on a wooden plank straddling the arms. The first rough straightening out of ones collar, prior to its being reversed and tucked in (always made me feel a bit of a renegade). The crisp white sheet thwacked open and layered around in a protective cocoon. The odious coolness of the powder the man would whoosh on, carpet-bombing ones neck from a distance. The refreshing cool of the siphon-sprayed water, droplets cloaking ones face obliquely, always leaving you wanting more. The rapidly accumulating crescent clumps of hair on the floor. The stolen glances at the guy in the next chair, stretching back luxuriously with his white lathered chin to the peeling ceiling. The SNIP!-chikchikchikchik as the guy snapped the scissors like a man possessed, slicing the air several times for each actual strike delivered. The odd comfort from that sound, as if one is safe in the hands of a professional. Much the same as when a doctor solemnly administers the cold of a stethoscope to your torso, except that here there’s no existing illness to lessen the feeling of well-being. Then finally, the liberated zingy feeling from running ones hand along the freshly awakened bristles up the back of ones neck. It was a complete experience.

The people were unique, too. There was the barber who came home at the height of summer, the year I had typhoid. He came from Punjab Hair Dressers, Prop. Bishamber Dayal. I went religiously to those guys for almost ten eventful years of my life. Major changes happened in every other sphere, I grew to recognize words such as tonsorial and alopecia, but every time there, the experience was the same. “Musheen chalaana, bhaiya, buh-laid mat lagaiye,” I learned to say when the threat of AIDS became real. One time I deviated and got him to cut it as short as possible all round. “Jitna chhota kat sake.” When I arrived home that day even our lovely dog didn’t recognize me. I identified some true friends that time – they were the ones who didn’t ask me why I did it. To all the others I said I did it because of the weather. It was mid winter. The teachers at school didn’t look too happy, but it wasn’t against the rules. They’d been going on against long hair. (“School ke bachhon ke baalon mein tel hona chahiye.”) I stuck with that style for a few months but gave it up when it proved high maintenance. Once the short cut hairs grew beyond an inch or so, the center of the front spread out like a Japanese work of art, as a consequence of which it had to be attended to like a bonsai. My friend malapropped his nemesis the geography teacher and called it an alluvial fan. It was fun while it lasted.

My first desperation haircut was the evening before the first day of my MBA job. Suddenly I realized with a shock that all the assembled rookies looked like smart young bankers. I looked like a hippie coming off a happy summer. I made a jump for the nearest barbershop available. “He cuts each hair individually,” suggested a co-recruit helpfully. I located the said merchant. It was only later that it struck me that that said strategy may actually not be the most efficacious. It turned out to also be the time I realized how bad a bad haircut can be. And I learned why my helpful recommender - and soon to be roommate and good friend - bore the nickname Random. Lots of learning.

My first haircut in the US was in the boondocks of Maryland, at a chain barbershop right next to a store I used to call the Rugged Worehouse. The nice lady who attended to me used a plethora of musheens and wrapped the job up in less than ten minutes flat. That was it? I felt cheated. “Next time, just say you’d like a Number 4,” she said with an American smile. “Number 4,” I repeated, doubtfully. I had no idea what that meant but I committed it to memory. Never used it since, but now I’m telling you. What I did know then was that I was walking out eleven dollars shorter. Sticker shock: that was almost fifty times as much as I’d ever paid in my life.

I had never paid more than ten rupees before. The most expensive haircut I’d ever heard of was sixty rupees. That extravagance had been indulged in by this clean-shaven Sikh guy who lived a couple of doors down from me in the hostel. He was one of my closest friends, and he was prone to doing strange things. Once he’d gotten so fed up with work that he’d climbed up the wall. We suddenly realized he was calling us from the roof, asking us to throw his slippers up to him. So what could we say to his pre-placement sixty buck splurge? He was also the one who used Lakme face wash. A hard core cut serd who was dating a former Miss Punjab. Maybe that’s why. They’re now the proud parents of two wonderful little surdlets, just like those in the old Bajaj ad. But I digress. That ten Indian rupee haircut budget bumped straight to ten US dollars plus tip, and that’s what it’s stayed. Hong Kong is slightly better since they throw in a shampoo treatment. But then last summer I was in Gurgaon – orange-coated overstaffed yuppie ripoffs sucked out 175 straight for nothing special. I felt like a bit of a freak that day – my hair wasn’t even shorter than usual or anything.

I remember walking around in Spanish Harlem looking for a suitable boyber. Three of them on Amsterdam Avenue, all looked weird. Walked into Melvin and Pat’s, went back a couple of times, but these weird Latina teenagers kept running in and out – who let them into the Drones? Then I found Ari’s, run by this guy Aristide who was apparently 91 years old. That was according to the newspaper cutting in the window; must have been dated. Ari hung around the place and made small talk with some folks who’d come in to get their nails done or whatever. His staff did the actual cutting, and they were all striplings from the next generation. There’s nothing nicer than a plump matron stroking your head and chattering away, saying words like Dearie. A grad student needs to feel loved. At the least it’s an improvement on the belly of the plump Punjabi pressing into your shoulder, back at Bishamber Dayal’s.

Then there’s the music. Barbershops have never been silent places. Here in Hong Kong, of course, it’s all about the 80s. Right now Phil Collins impinges onto my consciousness.

Take a look at me na-ha-ha-how
There’s just an empty pla-ce

Twenty years after I first heard it, it finally strikes me – the bugger was singing about his scalp. My mind goes back to “Hazratpur se… Tinkul, Hunny, Babli, Mohan, Ram Partap aur Shreemati Kumud Shiriwastaw ke liye, pesh hai filum Umrao Jaan se yeh geet, In Aankhon Ki Masti.” Vividh Bharati. That was something else. Wonder how I can turn it on now – the soundtrack that wasn’t there.

Gecka winshy?” I wake with a start. The man is talking to me. “Gecka-winshy?” I grunt acquiescence, and allow myself to be led into the alcove to get a rinse. My man for the day Billy (Bill-lee) hands me over to the winshy lady. Then he gets me back, sits me down and zaps a last few meditative stragglers from here and there. Funny how much attention they pay to the neck, which I’d say is the least noticed part. He settles my hair with a proprietor’s pride. The latest in a line of colorful curators. I’m allowed to rise, the Teflon dressing gown helped off my shoulders. No white sheets here.

I walk out, lighter again from the shoulders on up.

Coming next – Nail-cutters I Have Known Loved Before.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's just a story

La Meglio Gioventù

"Are you feeling happy? Then now is the time to be generous."

A six hour long film that leaves you wanting more. It's the story of an Italian family tracked over forty years from the '60s to the present.

Riveting, beautiful, ungetupable.
It's an experience.


Hate to do this, but this addendum seems necessary enough to go in. Don't get misled by the low IMDB rating (7.9). There's a thread on the discussion boards that documents how the rating slipped from an initial high of 8.8, thanks to an unusually high number of 1s that came in at one point. Reading through the thread, it seems that either this film was targeted by motivated interests trying to remove it from the top 250 list, or a whole bunch of people who had walked in knowing it was six hours long walked out after an hour saying that a film-maker who doesn't know how to say his bit within the standard two hours doesn't deserve to be heard. Take your pick -- both attitudes seem infantile to me.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Age of Consent

And if I told you all that went down
It would burn off both your ears


"Give me your name and I will give you a pig."

A Danish artist strikes a Faustian bargain with several hundred Ugandans.

Is attacked as being demeaning and racist.

Retorts that this is free trade in action, everyone ends up gaining.

Is this slavery?

Is it even ethical?

Why does it feel immoral?

There is always room in this world for sensationalism and hope.


Last fair deal in the country
Last fair deal in the town
Put your gold money where your love is, baby
Before you let my deal go down

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Swing vote

WBGO, one of the best online sources for streaming jazz (and also for just plain listening if you're in the NYC area), is carrying out a poll. Who are your favorite jazz musicians? Here's the chance to weigh in.

It took me forever to decide on a few of my picks. Tenor sax: Trane? The Colossus? Wayne Shorter? I went with Trane. This was a few days ago -- today I see he's got a huge lead over #2, Stan Getz. Trumpet was easier for me -- Miles over Pops and Dizzy, but now I find Maynard Ferguson is leading him by a solid forty points. WTF? Piano I plumped for Herbie. No two ways about it for me, although I knew that he wouldn't be a popular winner. And indeed, it's Oscar Peterson way out in front -- Ray Charles in his autobiography can't praise the man too highly, so in a sense I can see how he'd be ahead of Thelonious and Bill Evans. Alto sax is Bird all the way, for me and the masses so that's cool. Bass was a big toughie for me -- Mingus or Jaco? (Kai wasn't on the list :-) I went with Mingus partly because I'm a leetle more inclined towards his compositions, and perhaps that's unfair. Turns out Ray Brown is at the top right now, followed by Ron Carter and then Mingus. Drums for me was Tony Williams all the way but I recognized that some of the bigger names would win out, and indeed he trails behind Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones, a brush ahead of Jack DeJohnette.

The large ensemble section currently has a really close three-way race between the Basie, Ellington, and Stan Kenton orchestras. I'm guessing this has been marginally inspired by the recent Ray Sings Basie Swings release. For me there's no musical machine like the Ellington orchestra -- and of course that's inextricably tied up with the compositional genius of the man himself. Wynton Marsalis who for all his faults did a magnificent job on the Ken Burns Jazz series, put it ever so well: Late in the evening, when you're all alone and there's no one with you, that's when the Duke is there. Paraphrasing from memory, but that's about the gist of it. No one but the Duke -- can see right through you.

On guitar I went with Stanley Jordan, who's way down the list as I expected. Soprano sax was the same toss-up as before, but again I went with Trane for My Favorite Things. Oh well.

There were a few other categories as well, but I'm not so much into those so I'm not talking about them right now. You have to vote in all categories, so I did anyway. Feel free to do so if you think there's some injustice that needs correcting.

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand around and look

Okay, not quite. But vote anyway. And if you ever want to stream some really good music especially between midnight and 6 am NYC time, this is the place to go.


And with that it's a hundred posts now. So many electrons killed. And for what? For a little bit of distraction. There's more to life than a little entertainment, you know. Don't you know that?

And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Throw them all down the well

I finally got around to viewing the Macacagate clip. One thing that immediately struck me was the similarity with this faux music video. Anyone else catch the resemblance? The crowds just loved them both, didn't they? All that hootin' and hollerin' and singin' and dancin'. They just lapped it up.

And whatever you might think of the outcome of the elections, mandate, landslide, whatever, the fact remains that the sumbitch senator was playing to his gallery. He really almost didn't get it in the backside at all. The margin was non-existent. Now maybe that's just a case of incompetent hacking, who knows. After all, the coding coolies were mostly blue, right? The numbers and the pictures both tell us there's a whole bunch of macacalovers out there.

And in their country there is problem.


On a less intemperate note, here's something that I came across at 3 in the morning last night. In sharp contrast to the above, it kind of restores my belief that if there's life out there, they shouldn't cut funds to their Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence programs just yet.

What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death. I exclude the fact that I will linger, fadingly, in the thoughts of others, or that aspects of my consciousness will survive in writing, or in the positioning of a planted tree or a dent in my old car. I suspect that many contributors to Edge will take this premise as a given—true but not significant. However, it divides the world crucially, and much damage has been done to thought as well as to persons, by those who are certain that there is a life, a better, more important life, elsewhere. That this span is brief, that consciousness is an accidental gift of blind processes, makes our existence all the more precious and our responsibilities for it all the more profound.

- Ian McEwan

Think about it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ships of fools

From the NYT open thread on election irregularities:

  • 6.

    North Beach San Francisco:
    Using the Offical Ballot Marker…a cheap version of a Sharpie…I discovered my selections bled through to the back of the ballot. Both sides of the ballot had choices.
    I immediately pointed this problem out to the young Pole Inpsector. Regardless, she he had me feed my five pages of ballots into the reader.
    Page One, which had the California State Offices, was refused for being Over Voted. The Poll Inspector was distracted for a moment as the pole worker fed page one into the reader again.
    The Inspector returned looking for the suspect page…and then chastised the worker for feeding it through again. The page would be discouted on the second attempt!!

    Sorry Phil!

    Jerry, I hope you can help Oakland better from your new higher perch!


    — Posted by William Blum

Hey Bill, didn't ya know:
Standing on the moon
I see the battle rage below
Standing on the moon
I see the soldiers come and go
There's a metal flag beside me
Someone planted long ago
Old Glory standing stiffly
Crimson, white and indigo - indigo

I see all of Southeast Asia
I can see El Salvador
I hear the cries of children
And the other songs of war
It's like a mighty melody
That rings down from the sky
Standing here upon the moon
I watch it all roll by - all roll by

So there's nothing happening there, buddy. Truth be told, the last word was said long ago.

The bottles stand as empty
as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty
but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all
I yet may warn a few:
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag
atop no ship of fools

- Robert Hunter

We are everywhere.


Update: Many thanks to Wildflower Seed, here's a wonderful version of SOTM featuring Branford Marsalis, Madison Square Garden, September 10, 1991.

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Circumventing technological booboos since 2006.

Monday, November 06, 2006

url, interrupted

It's been nearly a week now that I've had access problems with blogger. Most blogs have been taking minutes at a time to load, and a maddeningly high proportion of attempts have ended with error messages. Or the browser has just frozen, while "reading" or "waiting for reply", or "on vacation in Siberian Ice Chamber" or something like that.

Even more infuriating has been the fact that I haven't been able to access my own blog to upload stuff. Not even text. The other evening I had this nice idea with a few slanted photos. Two hours of my life later, all I had was the knowledge that this page was empty. Then there have been a couple of ideas for music posts -- one which I promised last time with the hold your hand in mine, and another one that suggested itself to me at a website today. The first can't exist without the music, and the second would be greatly improved with it. Neither worked, because odeo went walkabye on me. (I'm so mad I won't even link to them right now.) And it's not for want of trying -- what a waste of time.

Anyway, it's kind of tautological when I put it this way, but it's funny how blogging increases one's dependence on the internet. I've been getting my news online for a while now anyway, but this is about more than that. It's about entertainment. These last few days have signaled to me that not being able to post when and what I want to post matters to me. And the fact that I wasn't able to post makes me think about it all the more.

I'll tell you why that too is not that interesting, really, if you look at it in context. The last few days I've been reading up on some background material for a paper I'm working on. One of the topics touched upon is rumination -- conscious thoughts that revolve around a common theme and recur despite the absence of any relevant environmental cues. Most models of rumination agree that these recurrent thoughts happen due to some discrepancy between the way the world is and the way we want it to be. Generally, progress towards a given goal generates positive feelings, while absence of progress, or even slowing down, generates negative feelings. And where there's a discrepancy it's possibly being either reduced or increased. All of which, put together, means that when you're not where you want to be and you're sitting on your behind not being able to do anything about it there's a decent chance you're thinking doleful thoughts about it.

It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, though. Rumination is "adaptive", which means to say it has some positive consequences. One way of thinking about it is that one must have a way of knowing which of ones goals are currently unsatiated, and our minds keep thoughts associated with these unsatisfied goals activated rather than stashed away off the backest burner. The first evidence of this interesting effect came from the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927. The story goes that it occurred to her while observing waiters at a restaurant -- they only seemed to remember orders they took while the order was in process, forgetting them as soon as they were delivered. Experimentally, she got people to carry out simple tasks such as counting beads and listing cities, and then interrupted them at various points. She found that when asked to recall these tasks at a later point, people remembered more of the interrupted tasks than the completed ones. Other researchers have over the years zeroed in on this phenomenon over the intervening years -- today, this we know from nothing. The point is that ruminative thoughts keep us alert to our unsatisfied goals, thereby increasing the chances that we attend to them at some point.

Of course, it's not that we need reminding of some of our unsatisfied goals. Many of us could do just fine without the extra stimulus. And that's why we try to distract ourselves, with opiates such as television and alcohol, especially when major goals remain uncompleted and impending failure looms large -- be it in the near future or the past, however distant. I guess that's what is irritating me the most about this stupid blogger block. It started as an idle distraction, soon graduating to the rank of mild opiate. It's fun. I like posting. It helps take my mind off work, so I could even argue there's a medical benefit (it keeps me sane...)

But why in bleeding misery will it not let me upload?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Macabre sixers. Some fiction. Enjoy briefly.

Stories in six words, they said. I expanded the brief a little. Some of these are not fiction. But they are all macabre, somehow. In no particular order, here goes.


- I tried. I failed. Bloody hospitalized.

- He sliced. I fainted. Phantom pains.

- I hold your hand in mine.*

- The guillotine rose. It fell. Fini.

- "I'd say shoot an undergrad."..."Better?"

- "I do!" "I do." Now war.

- Saeta. Solea. Candlelight. Pinot. Solitary misanthrope.

- He lied. They died. I wrack.

- Ice melts. Air smells. Blind suicide.

- Cow eat cow. Factory, cheap. Madness.

- Butterfly. Gerrymander. Hack. Twiddle. Banana democracy.


*This one is not original, obviously. Kudos if you know the man. If not, wait for a bit.